On the Upswing: Double Amputee Jesse Williamson

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In the past several months, we featured Manuel Dukes, Ricky Sleeper and Tom Parks, members of On Course Foundation.  Here’s another amazing story about the organization and its impact on wounded, injured and sick military veterans through the sport and business of golf.

With the excitement of the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club behind us, we figure it timely to focus on non-Tour golfers who, like winner Wyndham Clark, are heroic in their actions.

In this vein, we head a couple hours down the left coast to focus on Jesse Williamson.

The 34-year-old residing San Diego isn’t your ordinary golfer.  His journey was onerous, one that took him a hemisphere away, then back to his western roots.

Along with his three sisters born and raised in Monroe, Washington, about 90 minutes north of Seattle near the city of Everett, Williamson played baseball and football while mastering dirt bikes.  Golf didn’t enter his vocabulary one iota.

The military wasn’t part of his thought process either, but in 2008, Williamson enlisted in Woodinville Washington.  Then it was off to boot camp MCRD San Diego where he earned the title of United States Marine.  Camp Pendleton for School of Infantry followed for his MOS 0311 status (rifleman).  Stationed with 2nd BN 3rd Marines in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii is where he cross trained to be a 0331 (marching gunner).

Soon thereafter, Williamson was deployed to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban.  The mission was to locate enemy operations to protect the populous and government from attacks.  Day and night raids were consistent.  Bodies were flying everywhere.

Three-and-a-half months in, however, Williamson’s Humvee drove over an IAD.  He was thrown 60 feet in the air and landed on the vehicle.  The pain was excruciating, but the outcome for him could’ve been worse.

“The four others in the Humvee were killed,” he said.  “I think about them and their families constantly.”

Williamson was immediately air lifted to Germany, then to a military hospital outside Washington, DC.  During his 2-1/2 years of treatment and rehabilitation from injuries, doctors deemed it necessary to amputate both legs below the shin.

Obviously, Williamson was medically and honorably discharged.  Assimilation back to civilian life was overwhelming for the mind and body.  Addiction to pain killers led to other drug and alcohol dependencies.  He thought that was the best way to muddle through injuries and reenactment of the Humvee incident.

“I was angry at the world and lost in space for several years,” he said.  “Coping skills required considerable work and one day it all triggered.  Did I really want to live like this?”

Often torturous discipline resulted in Williamson becoming clean in 2015.  While immense hardship was behind him, what life looked like going forward was a big question mark.

Williamson’s “aha” moment came the following year.  A friend invited him to play golf.  To say our wounded veteran was smitten by the game is like saying Eskimos have a shortage of ice.  Williamson played every day.  The nastiest of weather couldn’t stop him.  Call it a crave of epic proportions.

“If I was going to play regularly, I should learn about all aspects of the game,” he said.  A range rat mentality fitting of a military man, round after round also dominated his every day.  So did absorbing information about the golf industry and its inner workings.

His calling was to attend the Golf Academy of America, then the Professional Golfers Career College and then grander studies at the University of Arizona where he started an adaptive golf program.

Let’s be reminded that Williamson lost his natural legs and got around on prosthetics.  His golf swing – rooted in balance, weight shift and motion – had to be unlike most others.

Notwithstanding, a single-digit handicap was achieved in a short period of time.  Yes, you read that GHIN correctly.  Remember, it’s even more impressive when it’s that of an iron man of sorts with two man-made legs, nonetheless.

Where would Williamson go from here to scratch his itch for golf and, well, more golf?  The answer:  through his military connections, he repeatedly heard about On Course Foundation and its superhuman work for wounded veterans via the vehicle of golf.

“Sign me up, no questions asked,” he thought without hesitation in 2017.

A bit of background:  On Course Foundation was established in the U.K. in 2010, then expanded to the U.S. four years later.  Through golf, it helps wounded, injured and sick Service members, both retired and active, with their physical and mental recoveries, and harvest newfound confidence.  Free educational programs in 15 states across America feature curriculum focused on playing golf and golf business skills.  On Course Foundation then places members in industry jobs with companies like Invited, Marriott Golf, TaylorMade Golf, Topgolf Callaway Brands and TPC Network, and at golf courses, country clubs and resorts.

Williamson tried out for the Simpson Cup in 2017 but didn’t qualify.  All wasn’t lost as he earned a Captain’s pick and jetted to St. Andrews.  With the help of On Course Foundation playing clinics and boasting a five handicap, he made the 2021 team outright.

“It was so exciting to experience the course where golf started.  I couldn’t believe I went from harmful dependencies to playing where the best players in the world compete.”

That’s On Course Foundation, fostering family, community and drive among those who sacrificed themselves for our freedoms.

“We check on each other throughout the year, we travel to play golf together and we talk about golf, the lives we appreciate and how to cope with post-military stresses.  All this, thanks to On Course Foundation, clears my mind, inspires me and makes me a better person.”

“Jesse is one of many On Course Foundation poster models,” says John Simpson, Founder of On Course Foundation.  “Golf helped him overcome extreme odds and took him from the depths of existence to a productive member of his family, the golf community and society.  While On Course Foundation is a facilitator for wounded veterans to achieve healthier lifestyles, it’s all about Jesse and his deep desire to forever improve.”

Not to be outdone, On Course Foundation supported Williamson securing an outside services position at Black Gold Golf Course in Yorba Linda.  It’s career advice, interview skills and overall training paid off, so much so, he sees golf course, country club and resort operations as a career path.  With motivation in high gear, Williamson is studying to become a PGA member.

“On Course Foundation kept me going in the right direction and motivates me to always do change for the better,” he says.

What’s good for the soul is good for the home life, too.  Golf on the brain gives Williamson the contentment he’s longed for, and relationships with his wife and daughters are solid.

From battlefields to booze and now birdies, Williamson is in a great place.  “Life is on the upswing,” he says.

Rich Katz

Rich Katz is Founder and CEO of Katz Strategy, a golf business and marketing advisory firm. One of golf’s most networked executives for 30-plus years, he founded golf-marketer Buffalo Agency (now Buffalo Groupe), was agent to PGA TOUR players and held leadership positions at Billy Casper Golf. rkatz@katzstrategy.com.

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